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Diario De Cuyo, Argentina

The United States
and Its Own Democracy


By Ricardo Trotti

Translated By Alan Bailey

4 February 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer


Argentina - Diario De Cuyo - Original Article (Spanish)

Every inaugural address given by an American president in the last six decades has included policies to promote democracy around the world. Barack Obama’s recent message in front of the Capitol was no different, but gave the impression that he wants to change the strategy.

From Roosevelt to Clinton, or from Kennedy's Alliance for Progress to Bush’s anti-terrorist National Security Strategy, the tactics for promoting democracy have had different nuances in accordance with the era and the context, always guided by American pragmatism to defend its interests and maintain its leadership.

That strategy, many times, consisted of humanitarian assistance, election training and civil society empowerment. Other times, the promotion was no more than imposition, through military interventions, economic pressures and covert CIA operations, to support coups d'etat or friendly governments. So, from the outside, the advancement of democracy was not seen as the aspiration of a country to inculcate liberty and free trade, but rather as the intervention of a foreign power to implant governments that would defend its strategic interests. Iraq is recent evidence.

All these traditional strategies of American diplomacy have had little or limited success. Perhaps because of this reality, Obama preferred to look within, to focus on the perfection of his own democracy, conscious that a good example can be a cheaper and more efficient marketing agent.

In his inaugural address, despite abandoning neither the anti-terrorist fight nor the support of "democracy everywhere," Obama veered away from the patriotic perspectives of his predecessors. He was focused on internal obligations more than on external ones, as much on the government as on its citizens. He spoke about restructuring the economy, seeking more work and prosperity, widening the middle class and continuing with the unfulfilled dreams of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, to ensure that every person is equal and has the same opportunities, with no differences regarding one's immigrant background, skin color or sexual orientation.

Without a doubt, Obama's message was introspective, as personal as those challenging words of John Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Therefore, when he called for peace, when he made an appeal to continue fighting for security and to respond to the threat of global warming, he did it not by casting blame on outsiders, to terrorists or to other enemy governments as in the past. He did it with a sense of self-criticism, requesting that all Americans work together.

He called for a bigger commitment toward the path of prosperity, equality and happiness that he considered incomplete. He requested more awareness to avoid tragedies like that of Newtown, as well as to develop renewable energies; he requested greater technological innovation and more mathematics teachers; and he declared liberty as a gift from God and private initiative as the character of the nation.

Obama got it right in this new approach of internal responsibility. But he also knows that there are many obligations upon the government to improve democracy; with four years on his back, he has no room to continue attributing all the wrongs to his predecessor. The prison at Guantanamo, the condemnation of torture in the fight against terrorism, gun smuggling, the epidemic of drug addiction, immigrant rights, the lack of transparency in the management of government information or the persecution of those who leak information are all issues to resolve before they become stains on his legacy.

Obama's speech is wagering that discipline and internal prosperity can be the best ambassadors of democracy.



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